The door is always left open — until someone is in danger.
It’s called “Safe Place.”
And it’s situated directly inside the lobby of the new Dade City police station, at 38030 Meridian Ave.
While “Safe Place” signage was installed just last month, the 8-by-12 room has been operable since the 12,000-square-foot building opened in January 2016.
Geared toward protecting against domestic violence incidents, citizens seeking shelter from danger, abuse or both can enter the chamber and simply shut the door.
Once closed, the room locks, dispatch is alerted and a Dade City police officer is summoned from an adjacent back door.
The area, replete with comfortable lounge chairs, is soundproof and bulletproof.
It’s under video surveillance, too.
In domestic incidents, an officer intervention is required before an individual may exit, said Brian Uppercue, the department’s spokesman.
“Once that door is closed, there’s no way for them to get out, even if they had a change of heart,” Uppercue said.
“We’ve had a couple uses for it already,” added Dade City Police Chief Ray Velboom.
Fingerprinting and noncustodial interviews— of victims and witnesses — are also conducted inside the “Safe Place” confines.
According to Uppercue, the space supplements the department’s ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ interview rooms, specifically in complex cases, “to keep all the parties separate.”
That way, folks aren’t passing through “the belly of the police department.”
Besides dire instances, the “protected” area is also employed for property returns and pickups.
The “Safe Place” concept materialized in the station’s design phase a few years ago, Velboom said.
In the old building, at 38042 Pasco Ave., residents often would file police reports in the lobby.
“There was no place to talk to those folks, so they were being interviewed right out in the lobby, in the open,” Velboom said. “We wanted…something that was a little more secure, a little more private.”
The idea follows another public-use offering, initiated by the department.
Last April, the department unveiled a “Safety Exchange Zone,” in its parking lot, permitting locals to meet up to sell or buy items through eBay, Craigslist or other websites.
The department currently has two parking spaces designated in its main lot off Pasco Avenue, behind the new municipal complex on Meridian Avenue.
The area is lighted and has video surveillance.
The safety zone helps reduce the potential danger of meeting with strangers to make a purchase, which was arranged online.
One such transaction, which was conducted in an east Tampa neighborhood in February, turned deadly.
James Beck, a 44-year-old Holiday resident, was shot dead Feb. 2 during a dirt bike sale arranged through Craigslist, multiple outlets reported.
Beyond transactions, the “Safe Exchange Zone” is used for custody exchanges.
“If you’re in a bad relationship, and you’re meeting at the police station, it’s going to temper everything down a little bit,” the police chief explained.
“It’s just a nice, safe, neutral area,” Uppercue added.
The “safe” areas are just two of the many features at the Dade City police station.
Besides its four holding cells, there’s enhanced evidence-processing laboratory, extra space for K-9 officers and evidence, and a high-tech Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
There’s also a designated room for weapons cleaning, equipped with an ultrasonic cleaner, air gun and vent system.
The $6.2 million building, which is combined with City Hall, was handled by St-Petersburg-based Wannemacher Jenson Architects, though some work at the police department was subcontracted to Generator Studio, an architecture firm in Kansas City, Missouri.
“We used the best concepts of a lot of police designs all around the country,” Uppercue said.
And, it sure beats the department’s previous digs.
“It was just this little cracker box; it didn’t have the technology this building has,” he said.
Published May 3, 2017